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HIV groups praise Obama for 2013 budget request

Domestic programs see increase, but research and int’l efforts cut

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President Obama’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year has won praise for including an increase in funds for domestic HIV treatment programs, although concerns persist about flat-funding for research programs and reductions in the chief program aimed at fighting the global AIDS epidemic.

The White House unveiled on Monday the president’s $3.8 trillion proposal to fund the U.S. government for fiscal year 2013, which includes funds for federally funded HIV/AIDS programs. The proposal was sent to Congress for lawmakers to act on and amend before passing into law.

Advocates for HIV/AIDS programs were largely happy with the recommendations made by the president on funding levels, which the White House says increases HIV/AIDS funding by $800 million, particularly with the Ryan White AIDS Drugs Assistance Programs, which provides grants to states for HIV/AIDS support services.

Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, said the budget demonstrates Obama’s “strong commitment” to fight HIV by increasing funds “for prevention and lifesaving care and treatment for those who cannot afford it in the United States.”

“President Obama recognizes the importance of the federal government’s role in addressing infectious diseases, such as HIV, and the need to provide care and treatment to people with HIV/AIDS to keep them healthy and reduce new infections,” Schmid said. “We now urge Congress to show the same level of support as it considers federal spending priorities for the upcoming year.”

Under the budget, funding for the Ryan White AIDS Drug Assistance Program would increase by $102 million over the FY-12 levels that Congress appropriated for a total of $1 billion. Additionally, the president also proposes an increase of $20 million for Part C of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to fund primary care for more than 550,000 people who have HIV/AIDS.

The increase will likely be welcome to news to individuals on wait lists for these programs. According to the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, 4,118 people are on ADAP waiting lists in 12 states and more than 445 people in six states have been disenrolled from the program due to budget constraints and growing enrollment.

Brian Hujdich, executive director of HealthHIV, also commended the president for increasing domestic HIV/AIDS funding, which he said is necessary until the government fully implements the health care reform law signed in 2009.

“The president has clearly identified HIV as a priority in 2013 by increasing funding for HIV care and treatment to those in the U.S. who cannot afford it, expanding access to life-saving HIV medication for the uninsured and underinsured, and increasing HIV prevention funding,” Hujdich said.

On World AIDS Day in December, President Obama announced an additional $35 million for the ADAP program and $15 million more for Part C of the Ryan White program. The proposed budget continues funds for those programs into FY-13 and increases it.

But funding for Ryan White hasn’t increased across the board. Obama proposes a decrease of $8 million to Part D of the Ryan White Program, which funds programs aimed at youth, women and families.

Other domestic HIV/AIDS programs are also seeing continued funds. The proposal requests $330 million for the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, which addresses housing needs for people with HIV/AIDS. The funding level this programs has been reduced by $2 million.

The president proposes an increase of HIV funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by $40 million. These funds are expected to help CDC focus on communities most impacted by HIV, including blacks and gay men, by increasing testing programs and linking people to care.

Obama also restores a $10 million cut to HIV Adolescent and School Health as young people continue to account for new HIV infections. Congress cut that program in FY-12 by 25 percent of its budget.

Despite these funds, advocates are also concerned about flat-level funding for research programs that develop new ways to combat HIV/AIDS. The National Institutes for Health, the nation’s medical research agency, was allocated $31 billion in the president’s budget proposal —the same overall level as FY-12.

With regard to specific HIV/AIDS initiatives at NIH, the budget proposes $3.1 billion for intramural and extramural HIV/AIDS-related research. Funding for HIV/AIDS research was about $3.2 billion in FY-12.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed concern about funding for these research programs while generally supporting the level of HIV/AIDS funding in the budget.

“Given the constraints imposed by last year’s budget agreement, we are very happy to see some significant increases in key areas, including for the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs and early intervention in vulnerable populations,” Cole-Schwartz said. “However, we are concerned by flat funding and cuts in other areas, particularly at the National Institutes of Health, where ongoing research on HIV/AIDS is critical to the goal of ending the epidemic.”

Spencer Lieb, the AIDS Institute’s HIV/AIDS research coordinator, said the flat-level funding for NIH is peculiar given the president’s past support for this program.

“This is surprising given the recognition President Obama has given to the recent monumental advances in biomedical prevention research conducted by the NIH and the need for continued prevention research, including on vaccines and new drug therapies,” Lieb said.

Additionally, the budget makes cuts to efforts to combat HIV/AIDS programs overseas. Obama’s proposal cuts more than a half billion dollars, or almost 13 percent, from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was established by President George W. Bush to provide anti-retroviral treatment to people with AIDS overseas.

Judith Aberg, chair of the HIV Medicine Association, said in a statement funding for PEPFAR in Obama’s request “falls short” of support needed “to put us on course to end AIDS globally.”

“The president is not providing the resources necessary to fulfill his commitment to putting 6 million on HIV treatment under the program or to scale up male circumcision or prevention of vertical transmission programs,” Aberg said. “Now is not the time to retreat on our investment in either of these lifesaving programs.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, justified the reductions in PEPFAR by saying the program is “a real life success story of doing more with less” because it continues efficiency while lowering costs.

“The most important metric for PEPFAR is lives saved, not dollars spent, and through smart investments we are delivering results,” Inouye said.

According to the White House, the necessary funds for PEPFAR are lower because of generic drugs, the ability to ship commodities more cheaply in addition to task-shfiting to nurses and community health workers. Inouye said the cost to the United States per-patient of providing treatment for AIDS patients has fallen by over 50 percent since 2008.

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Hugh7

    February 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    There is no evidence that circumcision has ever saved a single life*. In the three African trials, 64 circumcised men out of 5,400 got HIV, 73 fewer than the control groups. That is the sum total of the “protection”. Several times as many dropped out, their HIV status unknown. Contacts were not traced so it isn’t even certain which of them got infected (hetero)sexually. There is evidence a significant number of the infections were from contaminated medical instruments.

    *Of gay-trivia interest is the single possible exception, Roy Cohn’s New Zealand-born lover, who had himself circumcised to look American, got an infection there and had to wear a condom with Cohn

  2. laurelboy2

    February 16, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Can’t beat George W. Bush on his international HIV efforts, can we?? Obama masks it by saying they’re now more efficient. Yeah, right…

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National

Does a potential overturn of Roe imperil LGBTQ rights?

Some fear that Obergefell marriage decision could fall

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Protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1. (Photo by Cathy Renna)

The oral arguments before the justices of the United States Supreme Court had barely ended in the case brought by the state of Mississippi defending its law banning abortion after 15 weeks, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, when alarms were set off in legal circles as some argued that Obergefell v. Hodges — the same-sex marriage decision — would be in danger should the high court rule to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler, appearing on NPR’s ‘Heard on All Things Considered,’ told host Mary Louise Kelly that there was a basis for concern over whether the court would actually overrule its precedents in other cases based on the questions and statements raised during the hearing by the conservative members of the court.

Asked by Kelly if she saw a legal door opening Ziegler affirmed that she did. Kelly then asked her, “Them taking up cases to do with that. What about same-sex marriage?”

Ziegler answered, “Yeah, same-sex marriage is definitely a candidate. Justices Alito and Thomas have in passing mentioned in dicta that they think it might be worth revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision.

“And I think it’s fair to say that in the sort of panoply of culture war issues, that rights for same-sex couples and sexual orientation are still among the most contested, even though certainly same-sex marriage is more subtle than it was and than abortion was.

“I think that certainly the sort of balance between LGBTIQ rights and religious liberty writ large is a very much alive issue, and I think some states may try to test the boundaries with Obergefell, particularly knowing that they have a few justices potentially willing to go there with them.”

As almost if to underscore the point raised by Ziegler during the hearing, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor pointed out that the high court has taken and “discerned” certain rights in cases from the Constitution.

Along with abortion, the court has “recognized them in terms of the religion parents will teach their children. We’ve recognized it in their ability to educate at home if they choose,” Sotomayor said. “We have recognized that sense of privacy in people’s choices about whether to use contraception or not. We’ve recognized it in their right to choose who they’re going to marry.”

In following up the cases cited by Justice Sotomayor, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart, who was defending the state’s abortion law, whether a decision in his favor would affect the legal precedents in those cases cited by Justice Sotomayor.

In his answer to Justice Barrett, the state’s Solicitor General said cases involving contraception, same-sex marriage and sodomy wouldn’t be called into question because they involve “clear rules that have engendered strong reliance interests and that have not produced negative consequences or all the many other negative stare decisis considerations we pointed out.”

However, Lambda Legal Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director, Sharon McGowan had a different take and interpreted remarks by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to mean that the decisions in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized private sexual intimacy between same-sex couples, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down remaining bans on the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, would actually justify overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a publicly released media statement McGowan noted: “During today’s argument, Justice Kavanaugh suggested that two key Supreme Court decisions protecting LGBTQ civil rights—Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges—support overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

‘To that we say, NOT IN OUR NAME. LGBTQ people need abortions. Just as important, those landmark LGBTQ decisions EXPANDED individual liberty, not the opposite. They reflected the growing societal understanding of our common humanity and equality under law.

“Just as the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education rejected the lie of ‘separate but equal,’ the Supreme Court’s decisions in Lawrence and Obergefell appropriately overruled precedent where it was clear that, as was true with regard to race, our ancestors failed properly to acknowledge that gender and sexual orientation must not be barriers to our ability to live, love, and thrive free of governmental oppression. … 

“These landmark LGBTQ cases, which Lambda Legal litigated and won, and on which we rely today to protect our community’s civil rights, were built directly on the foundation of Casey and Roe. Our interests in equal dignity, autonomy, and liberty are shared, intertwined, and fundamental.” 

On Sunday, the Blade spoke with Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national LGBTQ+ legal organization that represented three same-sex couples from Tennessee, whose case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court along with Obergefell and two other cases.

Minter is urging caution in how people interpret the court arguments and remarks made by the justices.

“We should be cautious about taking the bait from anti-LGBTQ groups who falsely argue that if the Supreme Court reverses or undermines Roe v. Wade, they are likely to reverse or undermine Obergefell or Lawrence. In fact, that is highly unlikely, as the argument in Dobbs itself showed,” he said.

“The only reason Justice Kavanaugh mentioned Obergefell and Lawrence, along with Brown v. Board of Education, was to cite them as examples of cases in which the Supreme Court clearly did the right thing. All of those decisions rely at least as strongly on equal protection as on fundamental rights, and even this extremely conservative Supreme Court has not questioned the foundational role of equal protection in our nation’s constitutional law,” Minter stressed.

During an interview with Bloomberg magazine, David Cortman, of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist hate group, said “two things in particular distinguish abortion from those other privacy rights: the right to life and the states’ interest in protecting a child.”

Cortman, whose group urged the justices to allow states to ban same-sex marriages, said those other rights may be just as wrong as the right to an abortion. “But the fundamental interest in life that’s at issue in abortion means those other rights are probably not in any real danger of being overturned.”

But Cortman is of the opinion that there is little impetus among the court’s conservatives to take up challenges to those cases.

However, the fact that the six to three makeup of the high court with a conservative majority has progressives clamoring for the public to pay closer attention and be more proactively engaged.

Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in an emailed statement to the Blade underscored those concerns:

“Reports and analysis coming out of Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are extremely disturbing and represent a threat to our individual constitutional rights to privacy and autonomy. There is no ‘middle ground’ on what the Constitution guarantees and what was decided decades ago with the Roe v Wade decision. 

“This is about liberty, equality, and the rule of law, not the political or partisan views of those sitting on the bench. The unprecedented decision to remove a constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court 50 years ago would set back civil rights by decades. ….

“Abortion access is essential, and a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. Bans on abortion are deeply racist and profoundly sexist – the harshest impacts fall on Black and Brown women and pregnant people and on our families and communities.

“If you think this decision will not affect you, think again: a wrong decision by the Supreme Court means you, too, will lose your bodily autonomy, your ability to own your own personal and community power. This is not just about abortion; it is about controlling bodies based on someone else determining your worthiness. This is a racial justice issue. This is a women’s issue. It is an LGBTQ issue. It is a civil rights issue. These are our fundamental rights that are at stake.”

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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National

Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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